Commentary

Muslim Brotherhood Under Siege

Middle East In Focus

Middle East Policy Council

Last week’s bloody raids on Muslim Brotherhood protest camps in Egypt have become the subject of lively debate both locally and abroad. Many insist the responsibility for the deaths lies with the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, which refused to empty the squares. Others are convinced that the violence was unnecessarily brutal, and ill-advised besides, causing irreparable harm to the image of the Egyptian army as a guarantor of stability. There are few commentators who see a clear way forward and many who fear the worst is yet to come for Egypt and its people.  Meanwhile, the standoff between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood has taken its toll on Cairo’s standing with some countries and international organizations, while others (like Saudi Arabia and other Gulf nations) have expressed their support for the military and the newly installed civilian leadership.

Editorializing on the protests and the violence that ensued, the Saudi Gazette staff expressed the view that it was difficult to fault the military leadership for doing what it deemed necessary, especially in light of the MB’s broken and unfulfilled promises: “The hope among the Muslim Brotherhood leadership who organized the protests was that they would attract overwhelming support, which would paralyze the capital in the same way that the massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square brought about the overthrow of the Mubarak-led military regime, two years ago. That groundswell of backing from ordinary Egyptians did not arrive.... It was because Morsi’s administration achieved absolutely nothing that the Cairo protests of his supporters were, from the beginning, so forlorn and indeed ill-advised.”

Given its weaker position in the current standoff, some, including the Khaleej Times editorial, argue that the best course of action the MB could pursue is that of accommodation and dialogue rather than protest: “The bottom line is that Egypt has become accustomed to unrest and instability since the Arab Spring blew across it, and the fundamental objectives of the uprising seem to have been lost. The point is this is not the time to score points either from the government or the opposition. What needs to be done is to pull the country out from the quagmire of dissent. A national approach to address political differences cannot be delayed any further. The Brotherhood will do well by opting for talks rather than sitting idle at the Tahrir.”

Of course, not everyone is convinced that the Muslim Brotherhood leaders are at fault. For example, in its editorial, the Peninsula staff accuse the military leadership of having “finally crossed the redline, and by doing so, has frittered away the support and goodwill it received from some quarters for what is called a ‘friendly coup’....There is no doubt that the army has used disproportionate force to remove the demonstrators and could have exercised restraint. Even countries which are supporting the army rule and the previous coup will find it difficult to support this crackdown and the new rulers will find the going tough....The military’s action will have serious consequences. The resignation of ElBaradei from the cabinet in protest against the army action will result in a loss of support of many secularists and liberals.”

Similarly, Hurriyet Daily News’ Taha Ozhan and Yusuf Kanli believe the military’s actions have amounted to to a massacre, which will have a clear effect on the military’s standing with the general public: “The massacre perpetrated by the Egyptian junta regime on Aug. 14 might represent a tipping point not only for the country but also for others that supported the military coup from its onset....At this point, the junta regime in Egypt has become entirely meaningless. Gen. al-Sisi led himself and everyone that marched behind him on July 3 to a dead end. The Salafis suffered greatly as Al-Azhar lost all credibility and the Coptic pope led himself and the rest of the country’s Christian community into a crisis. Meanwhile, Mohamed ElBaradei’s resignation marked a confession by pro-coup secularists and liberals to their mistakes....The world is now faced with a simple decision: Either it will follow al-Sisi’s worst nightmare or help restore democracy to the benefit of all parties involved.”

Meanwhile, the events of the last week have also drawn the attention of many countries and organizations, some of which have condemned the violence while others have expressed support for the military-backed government. Reflecting on some of those condemnations, Arab Times’ Ahmed Al-Jarallah pushes back against anyone who would wish to put pressure on Egypt’s new leaders: “Egypt has taken a firm decision through its state institutions, the interim government and the army not to bow down to foreign threats but rather stand firm and cement its position within the international community. The European Union, the United States of America and some Arab countries and their allies must realize that Egypt is not a banana republic. They must realize that Egypt is not one of those countries which bend under the weight of random statements issued by ministries of foreign affairs or presidents of their countries....Efforts exerted by certain parties to threaten Cairo through the UN Security Council will bear no fruit.”

There is no doubt that the international condemnation has put pressure on the Egyptian leadership, which is why the Saudi government, as well as several other Gulf countries, have come out in support of last week’s actions. In an editorial on the matter, the Saudi Gazette underlined the importance of that support by noting: “These are still early days in the violence in Egypt and there is time to step back from a whirlpool which if sucked in, will be very difficult to get out of. If there is a common desire to exercise maximum restraint, or stop the violence all together and advance national reconciliation, then the fighting will cease....Friday’s statement of support for the Egyptian government from the Kingdom and the UAE has come at a crucial time as Egypt is buffeted by denunciations from other countries for the excessive killings. But there are deaths on both sides which makes both sides the losers.”

It has also become clear that that the recent events in Egypt have become a wedge issue for relations between Turkey and the Gulf countries. Writing for Al Arabiya, Mahir Zeynalov goes as far as to assert that “Egypt is taking a toll on Turkish-Gulf ties…. Turkey has been a vocal critic of the military intervention in Egypt, with its Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan almost daily bashing of the country’s army-backed interim government and its international supporters....Despite differences, Turkey was successful in sustaining a relationship with the Gulf based on mutual interests amid a growing threat by Iran. The latest standoff over Egyptian crisis, however, is a sure path to troubled waters and might deepen divisions. The fate of the relationship largely depends on how much blood in Egypt will be spilt in upcoming weeks.”

Finally, the violence in Egypt has, for some, done serious damage to America’s image in the region. In a recent article, Al Hayat’s Mohamed Salmawy asks: “How has the Obama administration managed to bring American esteem to its lowest ebb only a few years later? Surprisingly, it was not done over the span of four years, but almost overnight. The occasion was the removal of Muslim Brotherhood president Mohamed Morsi....the Obama administration has a much more important task on its hands than pressuring the wrong party to reach national reconciliation. It has to salvage the remnants of its public image....For the Obama administration to start dealing with this heavy task it has first to stop being on the wrong side of history, trying to put together the broken pieces of a political regime that has expired rather than salvaging its own image.”


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Middle East In Focus is a synopsis of commentary and news from Middle Eastern and other international media. Its purpose is to provide a succinct and balanced summary of the main developments and views that are often overlooked or not properly reflected in the U.S. media. For the most recent collection of articles on and from the Middle East, please go to: http://mepc.org/articles-commentary/articles-hub. Comments and feedback are welcome at info@mepc.org.